Shikishin Funi Rehearsals | J7s Dance Company | 9th November 2016

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Dancer: Giulia Avino. Photography by Alicia Clarke.

Last Sunday, I was very privileged to join J7s Dance Company in their rehearsals for Shikishin Funi, which is to be performed at Resolution 2017 on 17th January. Choreographer – Guilia Iurza – describes her work as an exploration of how body and mind can become one and generate movement, with a particular interest in how dancers’ movement can arise from memories, images and feelings. Even in these early stages of rehearsal, Iurza’s ideas are clear in the scenes created by her seven performers.

The episode that is rehearsed before me is the opening of the piece. It begins with a lone dancer improvising with an efficient movement quality, framed by her colleagues who observe her from the side of the space. These two concepts of “framing” and “observation” are key threads that run through the work. The lack of wings means that the performers are constantly onstage, framing the space like human architecture. It enables the performers to voyeuristically observe the choreographic events that unfold, even when they are not dancing themselves, which also creates an interesting contrast between stillness and movement.

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Dancer: Giacomo Pini. Photography by Alicia Clarke

As the opening section continues, more and more members of the cast attract the spectator’s attention; migrating across the space and introducing their own individuality through movement. It is particularly intriguing that Iurza encourages the dancers – many of whom were part of the original piece – not to replicate the movements they executed previously, but to re-find the feelings and intention, and to grow, mature, and find deeper resonance in the piece during every rehearsal. It is this sense of maturation and evolution that makes Shikinshin Funi such an interesting work to observe, and I can’t wait to discover how it develops between now and January 2017!

For more information about the work of J7s visit their website.

Donald Hutera | Women GOLive | The Old Fire Station, Oxford | 16th July 2016

My latest review for Oxford Dance Writers was of Times Dance Critic Donald Hutera’s platform Women GOLive. Hosted at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, the final night of the 4 day festival showcased various (but not exclusively) female choreographers, both local to the Oxford area, and from around the country.

“Even after only viewing one evening of Women GOLive festival, one can only conclude that it is a platform that defies categorisation. Hutera’s selection of contrasting works, incorporating different disciplines makes for an intriguing showcase of talent that has been neglected by the mainstream arts scene.”

You can read the full article here on the Oxford Dance Writers website.

Iqbal Khan | Macbeth | Shakespeare’s Globe, London | 23rd June 2016

I recently reviewed Iqbal Khan’s new production of historic tragedy Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe. Alongside the evident theatrical solemnity, aesthetic spectacle and sinister atmosphere, I was struck by how reflective of current issues this antiquated play was, even 400 years after its creation. One cannot be certain whether Emma Rice purposefully programmed this play exploring political turbulence on the eve of the EU referendum, however, deliberate or not, the play’s premiere felt like a heralding of an age of socio-political change.

“Many of us seated (and indeed standing) could not have predicted the significance of watching Macbeth in the Globe on the eve of 23 June 2016. Shakespeare’s play exploring political turbulence and a clashing of English and Scottish forces was unnervingly prescient of the Vote Leave victory and the troubles it will create.”

To read the full review please follow this link. 

Le Marchepied/ Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers | Metamorphoses | St Hilda’s College/The Old Fire Station, Oxford | 21st May 2016

“Ovid’s Metamorphoses – an epic poem exploring myths of transformation, love and loss – is the inspiration for a new work created by young Swiss dance company Le Marchepied. Their latest work – forming part of their tour of the UK – is the result of their collaboration with Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers (ADMD).  ADMD is a TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) funded project that seeks to investigate the Roman dance form tragoedia saltata(Roman pantomime) and to ‘develop ways of articulating the knowledge derived from kinaesthetic engagement with ancient material’.”

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Above is an extract from an article I recently wrote for Oxford Dance Writers concerning a performance and preceding workshop exploring Ovid’s Metamorphoses through the Ancient Dance form trageodia saltata. The workshop was run by Swiss dance company Le Marchepied and also Helen Slaney from Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers, at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. It was then followed by the performance at The Old Fire Station. You can read the full article here. 

Emma Rice | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Shakespeare’s Globe, London | 5th May 2016

Here is a link to a review of The Globe’s current production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for theatre website A Younger Theatre. I attended the press night on 5th May 2016, and was very excited to be given the opportunity to view my favourite Shakespeare play in Shakespeare’s Globe, the most extraordinary venue I have ever had the pleasure of frequenting.

“It’s wild. It’s wacky. It’s outrageous. It’s a triumph. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is many people’s favourite Shakespearian Comedy, and it can be challenging to confront producing a play of its popularity. However, The Globe tackles the task effortlessly, creating a production that is full of colour, humour and magic, which imparts to the audience a rejuvenating lust for life.”

For the full review, please follow this link.

Fishamble | Swing | Oxford Playhouse | 16th April 2016

“Swing is a comedy about dancing”. Fishamble’s international hit refreshingly explores the nature of dance comically through the eyes of a different art form, reminding the dancers and dance enthusiasts among us of the true values of movement. Not a perfectly aligned arabesque, but communication, escapism and fun. The play begins suddenly and humorously, as […]

via Swing – Fishamble at Oxford Playhouse 16th April 2016 – Emily May reviews — Oxford Dance Writers

Here is a link to a review of Swing which I wrote for for Oxford Dance Writers. It is an endearing, comic play by Fishamble that gets to the heart of why we dance.

 

Stephanie Bentley | Life in Acrylic | Northern School of Contemporary Dance Lighting Studio, Leeds | 9th March 2016

Emily May, 31st March 2016

Despite not being able to attend the exhibition in March, I was recently made aware of the work Life in Acrylic.  My friend Stephanie Bentley, sent me some photographs from her installation (created for her final project as part of her degree at Northern School of Contemporary Dance) and I was astounded by their visual appeal, and combination of both technical skill and conceptual consideration.

Bentley states that her intention with Life in Acrylic was to create a dialogue between “paint, performance and photography” creating “living portraits that reveal links between art and reality, embracing people’s existences… [and] telling carefully selected tales from their individual life stories through the externalising medium of paint.” Although I was unable to experience the concept of “living portraits” (live models present and performing in the space) due to not being present at the installation, I feel the photographs creatively demonstrate Bentley’s intentions of celebrating individuality, and particularly the notion of externalising internal stories, emotions and personalities through paint.

This concept is reminiscent of Surrealism’s belief that we should externalise our internal subconscious, allowing our dreams and repressed thoughts to permeate into our everyday lives. This comparison aligns Bentley’s work with the avant-garde art movement from Roaring 20s Paris, revealing how Surrealism’s psychological preoccupations are still alive and relevant to artistic creation today.

Whilst this academic and conceptual element is evident in the work, Life in Acrylic is also a display of the artist’s imaginative and technical ability. When viewing the photographs from the exhibition, at first one cannot work out the artist’s medium. Is it paint? Is it photography? Is it the human body? It is all three. And that is where the real success of the work lies. Bentley merges the mediums of performance and visual art, blurring the boundaries of what constitutes differing disciplines, creating an intriguing organic hybrid art form.

It is not yet certain of what will become of Life in Acrylic, but what is certain is that there are endless possibilities. The nature of the work means that it could develop in many different ways; it could tour as a photography exhibition, as a living exhibition, develop into choreography, or even become an immersive experience where the audience themselves begin to externalise their personalities, painting themselves. We can only wait in anticipation.

Andy Warhol: Works from the Hall Collection | The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Emily May, 5th March 2016.

For many of us, when we think of Andy Warhol, our mind is penetrated with brightly coloured portraits of 1960s celebrities – works indicative of the more commercial side of the American Pop Art movement. However, the works from the Hall Collection displayed at The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, are varied and surprising, showing a wider scope to the oeuvre of an artist we all thought we knew.

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“I started repeating the same image because I like the way repetition changed the same image… also I felt… that people can look at and absorb more than one image at the same time.”  – Andy Warhol.

As one enters the Exhibition, they feel in familiar territory, not yet shocked by the range of explorations completed by Warhol. It’s the 60s. We are confronted by all the stereotypical Warhol techniques: multiple versions of the same image, mechanical reproduction through silk screening and the elimination of the human elements of art. Many of the works conform to the Pop Art convention of using images from the contemporary media and advertising. For example Avanti (1962) a silkscreen of a luxury sports car, embraces the wealth and consumerism high art was supposed to renounce. The Ashmolean poignantly asks the question “Was he [Warhol] promoting or criticizing the advertising he reproduced?”

“I feel I represent the U.S in my art, but not as a social critic.” – Andy Warhol.

A stand out room in the 1960s section of the exhibition is dedicated to Warhols filmic explorations. It contains his work between 1964- 1966 on Screen Tests, comparable to a “Who’s who” of 1960s celebrity. They are a series of black and white, silent film portraits in which the artist has asked the muses to stare into the camera for a length of time. The result is quite fascinating, as the viewer is able to observe the individual just “be” – to breathe, complete natural behaviors and exhibit confusion at what they have been asked to do, all elements that make up a personal aura/ demeanor that are lost in static, inanimate portraiture.

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As we migrate into the realms of the 1970s, the artwork on show enters a new era of abstraction. Although towards the later half of the decade Warhol returns to his fascination with celebrity, paintings from this period of his career range from a study of reducing body parts to simplified forms to Untitled (Oxidation Paintings) (1978) using his own urine to create intricate, mesmerizing patterns the beauty of which contrasts the scatological nature of it’s production.

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“Heaven and hell are just a breath away” is the resounding message that permeates through the final gallery of the exhibition. The 80s was the final decade of Warhol’s life, and artistic premiership in New York, and in my opinion was the period in which he produced his most meaningful and creatively profound works. They’re almost unrecognizable as Andy Warhol’s, they are monochrome, socio-politically charged and draw on a range of religious and fatalistic themes. There’s a map of the USSR discussing the contemporary fear of Nuclear War. We are surrounded by slogans compelling us to “be somebody with a body” and questioning “are you different?” It’s a world away from the technicolor images of cheerful consumerism in the innocent, peaceful 1960s, yet it seems to be a suitable swansong for a man who questioned and redefined what it meant to be an artist in the 20th Century.

“Black is my favourite colour. And white is my favourite colour.” – Andy Warhol.

Overall – it’s a journey. In Andy Warhol: Works from the Hall Collection The Ashmolean takes it’s visitors to crevices of Warhol’s brain and that they never knew existed – yet simultaneously delivers the popular art work we all know and love to make the harrowing images of self discovery more easily digestible.

Andy Warhol: Works from the Hall Collection at the Ashmolean, Oxford is running from 4th February – 15th May 2016. For more information visit: http://www.ashmolean.org/exhibitions/andywarhol/

Muti Musafiri/ Richard Osborne/ Alula Cyr | Resolution 2016 | The Place | 16th February 2016

I was recently accepted as part of a team of 9 aspiring writers, alongside professional dance critics to write reviews of Resolution 2016 (dance festival for up and coming contemporary choreographers at The Place, London) on an on-line platform. The opportunity enables me to see a broad range of new dance works, to be mentored by professional critics, and attend a writing seminar by dance writer Graham Watts.

Below is my third and final review for Resolution 2016. Also follow the links below for the original publication of this review, and to check out the Place’s on-line blog which includes reviews for all the other Resolution shows, by both up and coming and professional critics:

http://www.theplace.org.uk/blog/resolution-review-2016/tue-16-feb-muti-musafiririchard-osbornealula-cyr

Emily May, 16th February 2016

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The performers enter the empty stage, holding spherical objects that at first elude us. They’re oranges. Oranges which the dancers begin to peel and eat, scattering the skin over the stage whilst reciting the abstract poem from the programme note. Despite this seemingly meaningful opening of Muti Musafiri’s Refractions on Attachments, it is difficult to discern a relationship and cohesion between the varied episodes the company present. However, one cannot deny the evident imagination behind the movement explorations and also the power of the performers, who deliver originally choreographed movement solos with control and intent. One performer’s aggressive recitation of incomprehensible words – reminiscent of a tribal war chant – manipulating the movement of another dancer is a stand-out moment.

“This is me… this is you” is the repeated phrase that echoes through Richard Osborne’s rEd, as two female dancers engage in a series of duets, their bodies intertwining. Both dressed in black coats, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other, until Brita Grov desperately attempts to establish a separation, removing her coat to reveal a red dress… “This is me.” In this sense, the work is very clear in establishing its themes of individual identity, breaking away from social expectation and conformity. However, this clarity of intention is achieved within the first five minutes of the piece, suggesting that the work would benefit from identifying additional thematic exploration to give it further depth and complexity.

And now for something completely different. Alula Cyr’s Hyena contrasts with the previous dark, atmospheric contemporary works. Instead the audience observe a jovial, comic showcase of “acrobatics, singing and contemporary dance” accompanied by the characterful live guitar compositions of Ollie Clark. While the piece claims to explore gender norms, roles and hierarchy, it sits more comfortably in its genre of circus art. The performers’ backflips, graceful rotations on enlarged hoops and balances upon each other’s shoulders have little apparent meaning, yet succeed in amazing the audience.

 

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch | “.. como el musguito en la piedra; ay si si si…” (Like moss on a stone) | Sadler’s Wells | 13th February 2016

Emily May, 14th February 2016

As a self- confessed Bausch fanatic, I was disappointed, though in hind-sight, this disappointment may have been of my own making. I first fell in love with Pina after watching many of her works live and on video. I was enthralled by the raw emotion she drew out of her performers, the passion, the pain, the eccentricity, and the way in which she populated her stage with surreal visions, densely occupying the space and creating a bizarre world with which everyone could identify. I thought that Pina Bausch understood me, and even had the answer to life itself. It is perhaps, because of this exaggerated infatuation and idolisation, I was bound to be crushed when one of her pieces didn’t live up to the standard of the unrealistic pedestal I had placed her upon.

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“como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si…” (Like moss on a stone) is structured in the typical Bausch format which we all know and love – episodically presenting varied conceptual scenes – and it would be a lie to say that some weren’t charming, comic and insightful. However, the majority of the scenes are atypically lengthy solos which although beautifully performed, struggle to fill the spartan, enlarged stage, are accompanied by music of little note, and lack the desperate emotion Bausch is renowned for. One may argue that this more gentle atmosphere was due to the piece being inspired by the peaceful, inspiring time the company spent in Chile, which is described in the programme note by company dancer Dominique Mercy as “a wonderful time.” Alternatively, others have argued that the elongated solos displaying technical and performative skills are results of Bausch celebrating her company’s abilies in this, her last piece which premièred eighteen days before her untimely death in 2009. However, can a dance work be given elevated status just because of the significance of it’s timing in the choreographer’s repertoire?

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Despite being less than thrilled by the latest re-creation by Tanztheater Wuppertal, this will not alter my love for the infamous Pina Bausch. She will remain the choreographer whom I dramatically declare as understanding and exploring the human soul, and speaking to individual audience members in a way that has yet to be replicated by other artists. And because of this fact, I’m glad I didn’t fall in love with (Like moss on a stone). Because Pina is personal. This time Pina didn’t speak to me. But she probably spoke to someone else, and this only heightens the importance of the times I have identified with and adored her choreography.